Kurt Cobain’s Fender Stratocaster (Black, SD Hot Rails)

access_time First seen circa 1991

This black Stratocaster first appeared on December 5, 1991, at gig played in London’s Kilburn National Ballroom. At that time, it was used alongside Kurt’s 1965 Fender Jaguar (main guitar), and another black Stratocaster with a ‘Vandalism’ sticker on it. From that point on, since the Vandalism Strat was destroyed on December 5, 1991, this black Stratocaster became Kurt’s main ‘disposable’ guitar – the one he would feel free to break at the end of the show.

Most notably, this black Strat was used during Nirvana’s Saturday Night Live performance that aired on January 9, 1992. Note that Kurt played the first song (Smells Like Teen Spirit) on the Jaguar, and switched to the Strat on the second one, which ended with the total destruction of the set, as per usual.

From that point on it becomes unclear what exactly happened to this guitar. It seems that during Nirvana’s Oceania tour in January/February 1992 Kurt mainly used a Jaguar/Telecaster combo, with a few odd Stratocasters in between. Among them was a black Stratocaster identical to this one, but it’s impossible to know for sure whether it was the exact same guitar or just one that looked like it.

With the end of that tour, Nirvana had a break until June, when they went to Europe. During this tour, Kurt again mostly used his Fender Jaguar, but also often picked up a black Stratocaster with a Seymour Duncan Hot Rails in the bridge socket. This guitar at some point had what looked like Kramer branded neck on it around June, and the went back to a Fender neck around July. It seems that Kurt broke off this neck on the night of July 4th, in Bilbao, Spain.

The next gig that the band played was the famous Reading festival, on August 30, 1992. At the end of the concert, Dave Grohl picked up a black Stratocaster (which Kurt used on a few songs that night, starting with ‘Dumb’) and smashed it into pieces, and threw them into the audience. It seems that from this point on, no black Strat was used again in 1992, so that was most likely the end of that guitar.

On the subject whether this was the same exact guitar all along or a few different ones, the answer probably lies somewhere in between. According to Kurt’s tech, Earnie, he often pieced together what was left of Kurt’s guitars after he smashed them, so it is likely that the black Stratocaster was a sort of a Franken-strat, featuring different parts at different times. For the sake of simplicity, at this point, we’ll regard it as one guitar.

A lot of what you see from ’91 through to the end is the same five, six, seven guitars just being recycled over and over again with different parts. You know, you change the pickguard, put a different color on there, change the neck and suddenly it appears to be a different guitar. We’d keep ’em out there until they really were beyond repair. [The story behind Kurt Cobain’s Fender Jaguar]


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access_time 1991

1965 Fender Jaguar

This guitar is probably one of the most recognizable guitars used by Kurt, probably because it was used extensively during the ‘Nevermind’ tour. Although it’s impossible to say for sure just based on photos, it seems that Kurt didn’t use it live until the start of the European tour, circa mid-August 1991. It is however very likely that he acquired it at least a few weeks prior to this. I own a […]

access_time 1991

Fender Stratocaster “Vandalism”

This is perhaps Kurt’s most widely known and most recognizable Stratocaster. The first time it appeared seems to be sometime around June 1991, and at that time it was used alongside another black Stratocaster, but with a white pickguard. Given that this is the first guitar that Kurt played live following the Nevermind studio sessions, it is possible that he used it on the album to some extent. When the […]

access_time 1988

Greco Mustang

This Mustang first appeared in late 1988, and it directly replaced a Univox Hi-Flier that Kurt smashed on October 30, 1988, in Olympia. It appears to be the first left-handed guitar that Kurt ever owned, and one that he modified pretty extensively. Kurt allegedly bought the Mustang at Guitar Maniacs shop in Tacoma, WA. However, the shop’s owner is only quoted saying that Kurt bought a bunch of Univoxes from him, so […]

access_time 1992

Fender Telecaster "<3 Courtney"

This guitar first appeared at Hordern Pavilion gig in Sydney, Australia on January 25, 1992. It originally styled a 3-tone sunburst finish, but Kurt sprayed the whole body with blue latex paint and carved out a heart and Courtney’s name on it. It also originally featured two single coils pickups – but the bridge pickup was replaced with a Seymour Duncan Hot Rails – something Kurt would often do on his guitars from this point on. Kurt played […]

access_time 1986

1970s Univox Hi-Flier Phase 3

This is one of the first guitars (likely the first electric guitar) that Kurt ever bought. To try and figure out when exactly Kurt acquired and used the guitar, we mostly have to draw clues from these photos, which unfortunately have no official dating, so we’re left to theory craft. Kurt Cobain’s Univox Hi-Flier On close inspection of those photos we see a few concert flyers on the wall behind Kurt; there’s […]

access_time 1991

1969 Fender Competition Mustang

This guitar is undoubtedly best known for its appearance in the music video for ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, filmed on August 17, 1991. Given that this is the first time chronologically that Kurt ever used it, it assumed that the Mustang was purchased somewhere around that same time. The first time that Kurt used the guitar for an actual live gig appears to be at Beehive Music & Video store in Seattle on […]

access_time 1993

Fender Mustang 'Oranj-Stang'

This guitar was first seen on July 23, 1993, at Roseland Ballroom, NYC. At that point, the guitar was completely stock, and it featured a fiesta red finish and had a red Pearloid pickguard with two white single coil pickups installed in it. Allegedly, this was one of the four Fender Mustangs that Kurt acquired prior to the ‘In Utero’ tour, with three of them being finished in blue. All […]

access_time 1991

Fender Stratocaster (Black, smashed during “Endless, Nameless”)

In early 1991 Kurt started playing a black left-handed Stratocaster with a white pickguard and a full-sized humbucker in the bridge position. The first time the guitar was photographed appears to be March 8, 1991, at Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, Canada. Nevermind Studio Sessions Kurt had this guitar with him when the band entered the studio for the second time to finish up the album, in May 1991, during which they recorded most […]

access_time 1992

Fender Stratocaster (Sunburst, Reading Festival)

This guitar was first used Reading Festival in Reading, England, UK, on August 30, 1992. Kurt started off the set with his 1965 Fender Jaguar but switched to this Stratocaster at around 30-minute mark, and played it for most of the gig, aside from a few songs on which he used another black colored Strat. The guitar was most likely brand new since it was the first sunburst Strat that […]

access_time 1993

Fender Mustang 'Sky-Stang II'

This was second of the three blue Fender Mustangs that Kurt acquired sometime prior to the ‘In Utero’ tour, and one of the four Mustangs in total he used around that time – the fourth one being a red one. All four guitars were modified in a similar way sometime between July and October 1993 – with their bodies being routed out in order to fit a full sized humbucker […]

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